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Earth Power Technology

Climatologist James Hansen Defends Nuclear Energy 345

Posted by samzenpus
from the give-it-a-chance dept.
First time accepted submitter prajendran writes "James Hansen, the former director of the Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, has been a strong defender of using nuclear energy to replace coal and renewable energy. He and three other researchers had written a letter, arguing just this. In this interview with, an Indian news site, he was asked to address some concerns surrounding the issue, especially given the strong feelings generated by it. It may not be Hansen's best interview, but it did bring out his passionate side."
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Climatologist James Hansen Defends Nuclear Energy

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  • common sense (Score:1, Interesting)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:14PM (#45634155) Homepage Journal

    of-course the only real we have today to cover our energy needs while destroying the environment the least is by using nuclear energy.

    Of-course the governments of the world stand in the way of the free market experimenting with nuclear energy, AFAIC that's the reason I don't have a flying car yet, it's because we are not yet powering cars with tiny nuclear reactors and that will not change until we get gov't out of energy business (and if you want progress in any field that is useful, get government out of it).

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:32PM (#45634271)

    Underground. But I don't see any envirohippies making a big fuss about all the uranium ore in the ground and the massive fission reactor thats probably at the heart of the planet so why the big fuss when someone suggests burying the radioactive waste underground later?

    There's so much knee jerking going on in the enviromental movement with regards to nuclear power that they could probably audience for starring roles in Lord of the Dance.

  • Re: common sense (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:38PM (#45634299)

    In fact nuclear and fossil fuel has the same issue. What to do with the waste. With coal and such, we push the waste into the air. This, to me, is like pissing in your neighbors lawn. It is frowned upon so we mandate indoor plumbing so your waste gets to a place it can be dealt with. While there is no reason why we could not mandate indoor plumbing for coal fired plants, it is deemed not economically viable to do so.
    An issue with nuclear plants I'd they were in part developed as response to the pollution of fossil fuel, and had the advantage that the waste was contained. Indoor plumbing. But the politics was that we could not simply treat and dump, like human waste. So we are really at the an equivalent point. Without reprocessing, and including that cost in our electricity bills, nuclear is not a viable option. It is not enough to have clean energy, it must be cheap. Fossil fuel is cheap because we can just dump the waste in our neighbor's yard.

  • Re:Name them. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by prefec2 (875483) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @04:58PM (#45634407)

    The truth is that there are no big advances in nuclear power plant technology. There are ideas from the 1960 and 1970, like thorium reactors, breeder reactors or the pepple-bed concept. They all have been tried out and failed for different reasons. Present reactor technology is still based on the same concepts from the 1960s. Improvements in safety have been made, but only in small steps issued after accidents in plants. This is the same principle as in aviation where every crash is analyzed and used to improve planes.

    For the pebble-bed thing. Germany tried it and they failed (see wikipedia). The only one having one operational is China (see []). While it is stated that the design is saver than present western reactors, it uses graphite for moderation. It cannot burn as cooling is done by a non-burnable gas. However, a leak might introduce O2 and that can reproduce Chernobyl all over again. So I am not really convinced that this is a better solution. Furthermore, it is not a solution to the nuclear waste problem. And it is not a solution as a long-time energy source.

    While after 50 years of nuclear energy, industry and research where not able to provide a complete solution, while the re-newable energy fraction have working machinery and also the energy storage problem is solvable, as we already have that technology even if it is not yet cheap, reliable or implementable everywhere. However, these issues are easier to fix than come up with totally new technology.

  • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:23PM (#45634511) Homepage Journal

    And Poland is buying wind power from germany.
    So what is your point?

    Selling and buying beyond frontiers is exactly the point of an international continent spanning energy grid.

    If we would only sell and never buy you would blame us, too. Won't you?

  • by Loki_1929 (550940) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:25PM (#45634521) Journal

    And how much CO2 and other environmental damage would there be from covering vast swaths of land with solar panels? The manufacturing process is filthy, the disposal process even worse, and it results in more human lives lost than nuclear.

    Nuclear can scale up very easily and rapidly. It merely requires the balls to bring down the miles of red tape standing in the way of building new reactors and reprocessing their waste. It handles base load and we know that it works because we've been using it for decades. If you want to bet the farm on something, bet it on something we already know works. As for the fuel, CANDU plants can already breed fuel from thorium and it can use MOX fuel including the weapons-grade plutonium from all those decommissioned nuclear weapons we have laying around.

    There's plenty of fuel, waste is ridiculously tiny and low risk if you reprocess the fuel, it scales very well, and we know it works for all kinds of load. Why you'd want to bet human civilization on something new that's more damaging to the environment, causes more human fatalities, and has many unknown risks associated with it is beyond me, but I can say that it won't scale to what we'd need without obscene amounts of environmental damage and unknown risks to the overall climate.

    The real solution involves using proven safe, clean technology on a larger scale.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:25PM (#45634525)

    At this point, a lot of nuclear waste sits in fuel pools because there is no long-term solution.

    A lot? Practically all of it that was ever accumulated sits there, in the US at least.

    So? The pools are a pretty good long term solution, if by "long term" you mean at least the next century or so, until future generations figure out a better place to store it, or more likely, an economic use for the "waste".

  • Re: common sense (Score:4, Interesting)

    by VTBlue (600055) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @05:58PM (#45634657)

    Science has solved the waste issue. Titanate nanofibers. One gram cleans a ton of waste water.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 08, 2013 @06:04PM (#45634677)

    Is Nuclear Waste Really Waste? [] It is an immense energy resource of which still contains roughly 99% of the original energy content. The actual waste remaining once the rest of the energy is released is very small, with lifetimes measured in decades, not millennia.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Interesting)

    by x0ra (1249540) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @06:09PM (#45634707)
    There is plenty of option for fuel waste treatments. France has been the world pioneer and leader of reprocessing. Only the US have decided NOT to reprocess their spent fuel. This is a political problem, not an engineering one. After reprocessing, you are left with a small portion of the original spent fuel which can be vitrificated and buried. These waste have a really high density and do not occupy much space. Trash landfill is causing more harm on the long term than there waste, but you don't object to trash landfill...
  • Re:TL;DR (Score:4, Interesting)

    by x0ra (1249540) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @06:14PM (#45634725)
    OOTH, during the previous centuries, political bs has caused more death than nuclear waste will ever, so this would really be the last of my problem should a worldwide political crisis emerge. At worst, the storage site will turn out as a Tchernobyl-like exclusion zone, which is pretty OK.
  • Re:TL;DR (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kiuas (1084567) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @07:22PM (#45634997)

    This is the dream solution so far, but this does NOT exist.

    Wrong. []

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Uecker (1842596) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:06PM (#45635243)
    Waste is not a small problem. There is a salt mine in Germany where there were nuclear waste was stored. Turns out, this mine is not as safe as originally thought. The mine is instable and there is water inflow and the nuclear waste stored there has to be brought back to surface. The German parlament just passed a law about this. Estimated cost (tax payers of course) 4-6 billion Euro. This is the thing with nuclear energy: It seems such a nice solution. As long as you ignore all the details. Then it gets messy and expensive. Really expensive.
  • LFTR (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @08:07PM (#45635251) Journal

    The thing that has me really worried about LFTR is the removal of fission products.

    In a conventional nuclear reactor, the fission products are confined within the fuel cell cladding. The only place rendered long-term insanely radioactive is the reactor core, which is mechanically pretty simple.

    In a LFTR, there is a facility for removing fresh fission products from the liquid fuel. This is a combination of multiple processing steps, high temperatures, corrosive chemicals, and way too much radiation to let humans anywhere near for running or maintaining the equipment. Then the removed products either need short term storage, or to be rendered into a form suitable for long term storage - requiring still more processing.

    I'll grant you that the core of a LFTR isn't going to cause an accident, but removing and dealing with those fission products on a regular basis with such a huge price on failure sounds like an engineering nightmare.

  • Re:TL;DR (Score:4, Interesting)

    by similar_name (1164087) on Sunday December 08, 2013 @09:36PM (#45635863)
    Do you have a source for that? I was able to find this [] and world energy per capita is certainly going up. I also found this [] for the U.S. but it shows a rather recent peak that could be more related to the financial crisis than a real long term trend. In any event, why would a decline in per capita energy use indicate a decline in civilization rather than just increased efficiency?
  • Re: common sense (Score:4, Interesting)

    by taiwanjohn (103839) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:01AM (#45636935)

    Hm, no, that doesn't solve "the waste issue" it only makes one aspect of it easier to deal with. It's useless for spent nuclear fuel, for example.

    The problem with SNF is that it's all mixed together. Most of the isotopes are actually quite useful for medical or industrial uses, but only if they are isolated from each other. As described in this video [] SNF from today's nuke fleet is like taking everything from your pantry and dumping it out on the floor in one big pile. There isn't much you can do other than shovel it into the dumpster. But if you have flour, sugar, salt, etc. all in separate containers you can use them to bake a cake.

    This level of fine-grained reprocessing is difficult and expensive for solid nuclear fuels, but relatively easy and cheap to do with liquid nuclear fuels. This is one reason why molten salt reactors are getting more attention in recent years. It's just so much easier to chemically separate the various byproducts "on the fly" while the reactor is online.

  • Re: common sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfish (1653411) on Monday December 09, 2013 @04:22AM (#45637603)
    I read somewhere that if a human got all their electricity in their entire life from Nuclear power, the total waste product would fit in a coke can. Not sure if that is true or not (your figures indicate about a coke can every year) but if it is (or even 10x times that) it makes the waste issue seem to be blown way out of proportion.

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)